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Proudly standing on the southeast side of NW 12th Avenue is the recently remodeled Town & Country Supermarket. The beautiful new wood-peaked entryway is like a crown on this gem of a store in the heart of Ava. A well-deserved crown considering local folks have been shopping at Town & Country for more than forty years.
Town & Country Supermarkets (and twin, Country Marts) were started in the early 1960’s by Wayne Gott and are now headed by his son, Dennis. The Gotts opened their first Town & Country in Salem, Missouri and followed it with seventeen more stores.
In the mid-1960’s, they built Ava’s original Town & Country Supermarket on North Jefferson Street, where Ray’s Electric now stands.
In 1969, Mr. Gott hired Larry Johnson to manage the Ava store. Having worked at Williams Supermarket first as a butcher, then as the store manager, then as supervisor, Larry already had nine years of grocery store experience.
Working for Wayne Gott at Ava’s Town & Country Supermarket turned out to be an ideal match for Larry. He’s been manning the helm there for more than forty years. “The Gott’s,” Larry says, “are really good people to work for.”
Larry is a lifelong resident of the Ava area. As a child, he attended Silver Shade, a one room schoolhouse about eight miles from the grocery store. After eighth grade, he attended Ava High School, graduating in 1957. The following year, he married his wife of more than fifty years, Shirley, who works in the supermarket’s office. They have two sons, Kent, who works as the Assistant Manager of the supermarket, and Brad, who runs a physical therapy clinic in Springfield.
Early in Larry’s Town & Country management career, the Gott’s built a new store at the location where it remains today. Then, in 1989, they completely remodeled the store and doubled its size. Last year, they again remodeled the store, updating it and emphasizing the produce, meat and deli sections.
Those are “the three departments that really make the store,” Larry said. “Produce, the meat shop, and the deli. Having good people in those departments is really a plus.”
Eddie Phillips oversees the produce department. He’s been in charge of it for more than thirty-five years. A quick glance at the abundant fruit and vegetable bins and it’s immediately clear that Eddie has a flair for color and a knack for display. The variety of produce is immense and everything is fresh and enticing.
When asked why he’s stayed with the store so long, Eddie replies, “The customers. I like the people.” He explains, “During the [recent] remodel, the customers were real understanding. Most didn’t mind the mess. They said it would be better when it’s done.” He sweeps his arms wide. “They really like the way it looks now.”
They should. The Town & Country’s produce department rivals the nicest produce markets in the country.
The meat department — where meat is still cut by hand — is headed by butcher, Chip Sell who, like Larry and Eddie, has worked most of his adult life at the Town & Country Supermarket. When asked what he enjoys about his job, Chip says, “I meet lots and lots of really nice people and I work with some really good guys.”
The deli and bakery department is overseen by Corey Bengtson. Having worked at the Town & Country Supermarket for four years, she’s a relative newcomer to the team. Yet, she is as dedicated to her department, the store, and her customers as her boss and coworkers are. “I love working with the customers,” she says cradling a tray of donuts. “We have a really good environment to work in.”
Of the store manager, all three department heads are in agreement: Larry Johnson is an excellent boss.
“He’s extremely fair. He knows what he’s doing,” says Chip.
“Larry will work with you, help you if you need time off. He’s real understanding,” says Eddie.
“He listens really well,” says Corey. “He’s always available to talk to and he’s willing to hear your point of view.”
As for Larry, he counts himself lucky to have such sterling employees and loyal customers. “I’ve worked with Chip and Eddie for as long as I can remember. Gary Mitchell, too, though he retired as my butcher and now works part-time. Corey is new, but she’s very good.”
While many people worry about the quality of young employees now entering the workforce, Larry isn’t one of them. “The ones who work here, they have a really good attitude. They’re hard workers. They do a good job.” He points to Corey as his stellar example. “She’s excellent at her job.”
Of the many, many people Larry and his team have served over the years, Larry says, “Customers in this area, I think, are the best you can get.” He’s appreciative of everyone who comes through the Town & Country Supermarket’s brand new entrance and – after more than forty years at the helm — fondly remembers many who no longer grace the store with their warm and vibrant presence.